The Asian Development Bank (ADB) yesterday approved a $100 million loan to expand the coverage of an ongoing rural road network improvement project in Bangladesh, connecting the rural population to agricultural development zones.
The top-up to the $449.23 million Rural Connectivity Improvement Project can be viewed as a boon for the job creation agenda, as the country battles mounting unemployment.
At least 1.4 million jobs are likely to be lost for the pandemic, according to an estimate of the Manila-based multilateral lender.
More than 1 lakh migrant workers have so far been deported and thousands of them are waiting to return home, according to Tasneem Siddiqui, chair of the Refugee and Migrating Movements Research Unit at the Dhaka University. Then are lakhs of informal sector workers who had gone back to their villages after the countrywide shutdown, and many have decided to stay back.
So, the scaling up of a manpower-heavy project can be viewed as a godsend for the government's conundrum of finding jobs for so many people.
With the additional financing, the current road network development programme would be extended from 1,700 kilometres (km) to 2,630 km of rural roads.
It will build on a $200 million financial package approved in 2018 aimed at upgrading rural roads in 34 districts to all-weather standards with climate resilience and safety features.
The impact and outcome of the overall project are expected to be further enhanced with the coverage of additional geographic areas and the increase in beneficiaries. The expanded project will benefit 40.2 million inhabitants.
The increased support brings more rural communities closer and faster to economic development activities, which accelerates the delivery of produce and services from agricultural lands to markets, said ADB Senior Water Resources Specialist Olivier Drieu.
"Women and children will have easier and safer access to education, employment, health, and other essential social services in any weather condition," he added,
Inadequate rural transport and poor market infrastructure remain a challenge to Bangladesh's rural development.
The situation is further worsened by recurrent flooding and disasters that paralyse agricultural value chains.
Less than half of the rural population has access to all-weather roads, which make up less than a third of the total length of rural roads in the country. The additional funding will also supplement the government's infrastructure spending to boost the local economy, which has been affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Infrastructure spending will generate local employment, increase access of rural communities to health services and medical supplies, and lay the ground for long-term growth prospects of the economy.
The Rural Connectivity Improvement Project supports the government's Seventh Five Year Plan to increase the percentage of the country's rural roads classified as good from 43 per cent in 2016 to 80 per cent in 2020.
The overall project will continue to strengthen governance and institutional capacity in rehabilitating and maintaining rural roads with the use of a geographic information system to optimise monitoring of road conditions, thus sustaining an efficient rural road network that would boost further growth of the rural economy.
The project, for which the government is providing $149.23 million, is expected to be completed by 2024.